A TRAVEL FEATURE BY JIM HARRIS
I am 75 years old and a retired book professional with nearly forty years of book selling for publishers, as a retailer and for a book wholesaler. Most recently, I have been a volunteer at a regional writers’ association and written book reviews.
My wife and I completed a two week visit to five cities in Europe– Prague, Vienna, Venice, Florence and Rome. The trip was based primarily on books that I read from 2006 to 2016. Here are the books that influenced our choice of meals, hotels and sights/sites. All of the hotels, restaurants and most of the sightseeing that I write about I have reviewed for TripAdvisor.com (you can look them up).
Donna Leon is an American author who lives in Venice. Her main protagonist, in over 25 mysteries, is Detective Inspector (Commissario) Guido Brunetti. Guido is married to the daughter of a prominent Venetian nobleman. As such Commissario Brunetti is on the fringe of Venice’s elite but as a cop he also walks in the underworld of the City of Venice. The first book in the series is Death at La Fenice (the opera house) and a more recent title is Falling in Love, both of which feature the same female opera singer who seems to attract murders.
Daniel Silva has to be one of my favorite writers of spy genre books. His primary protagonist is Gabriel Allon who is a restorer of Renaissance art, an art dealer/appraiser and an assassin for Israel’s Mossad (counter terror group). He is based in Venice in some books and in England in some books. There are also some stand-alone novels as well such as The Unlikely Spy which was Mr. Silva’s first and is set in WWII England. The first Allon book is The Kill Artist in which Allon retires but is dragged back in by his former boss in Israel. I started reading with The Confessor, which is actually the second book in the Allon series. In it Allon is restoring the artwork of a Renaissance era church in Venice.
Brade Thor is another favorite of mine. His main protagonist is Scot Harvath an ex-Navy SEAL. His adventures begin in The Lions of Lucerne. Harvath eventually becomes a member of the Secret Service and then a secret counter terrorism agent under the auspices of the President. However in The Athena Project, Thor introduces a new series with female operatives (first seen as guest stars in Foreign Influence), a group of 4 female members of Delta Force (Special Operations branch of the United States Army). A terrorist attack in Rome kills 20 American citizens and the Athena Project ladies are sent to track down the Venetian arms dealer who was responsible for providing the explosives.
SITES and SIGHTS
Professor Toni Sepeda offers walking tours of the neighborhoods in Donna Leon’s books. They are about 150 euros regardless of the group size. You can find her through Donna Leon’s website. My wife and I visited the Doge’s Palace and Bridge of Sighs (the story is fascinating). We booked this in advance so we could go on an English language, small group tour. On our vaporetto (water bus) ride from the bus station to the Doge’s Palace on the Grand Canal, we passed the police headquarters where Guido Brunetti works. It is mentioned in all of DONNA LEON’s books that I have read featuring Commissario Brunetti. The following photo is the famous (or infamous) Bridge of Sighs.
EAT, STAY, TRANSPORT – Because of the cost of hotels on the Islands of Venice, we stayed on the mainland in Marghera not far from the Mestre train station (10 minute walking distance if you do not have luggage to drag). The hotel is just a block from a bus stop where you can catch a bus to the island side of the Venice lagoon. The small family owned and run hotel was the Hotel Villa Adele, Via P. E. Gelain, 10, 30175 Marghera (Ve), Phone: 0039-041-920376 (about $100 per night including breakfast). The owners were very nice and extremely helpful. The room was small but it had two beds, air conditioning, an en suite bathroom and a TV. A buffet breakfast (free) and parking if you need it (for a small fee) are also available.
Both nights we dined at a local restaurant less than 2 blocks from our hotel. The restaurant was Capri Pizzeria, via Giorgio Rizzardi 60, Marghera. The specialties were pizza and pasta (it is Italy after all) and we tried some of both. Really good and affordable. We dined at 7 PM (1900) each night and the restaurant was full of locals. In France when we dined at 7 PM (1900), the restaurants were empty until about 8:00 (2000) or 8:30 PM (2030).
After our tour of The Doge’s Palace we had lunch at Caffè Florian, Piazza San Marco 57, E-Mail: [email protected]. This was featured in at least one of the mysteries by Donna Leon. If you are walking away from St. Mark’s Cathedral and the Doge’s Palace, it is about halfway down PIAZZA SAN MARCO on the left side. Inside and outside seating are available with a small band playing classical music– just what you imagine a European café to be. It has been there since 1720. We made a reservation through the e-mail address above. The following photo is the Piazza San Marco taken from the Doge’s Palace.
Jim Harris previously shared his experiences reading and visiting Rome. Watch nwbooklovers for his next installment: Vienna!